Not upstaging, but as an important adjunct to the UN’s ADP negotiations that started today in Bonn, Germany, the one-day Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience took place in Anchorage, Alaska. Otherwise known as the GLACIER summit, the talks proceeded on two parallel tracks along the common theme of climate change: global warming redirecting the focus of resource development in the arctic; and the effects of both adjustments on indigenous peoples, who make up about 10% of circumpolar populations.
About 400 people, around a third of them Alaskans, attended the event. Said Mike Brubaker, director of the Center for Climate Safety and Health of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium: Alaskans are on the front lines of witnessing and understating climate change “in a very intimate way…. People are seeing their world change, their understanding change and they want to do something about it.” Particular local climate sensitivities include emergency response, fisheries, public health, housing, and renewable energy.
Representatives of 20 nations and the European Union, including seven state ministers at the highest level, comprised the other affected group. For the US, Secretary of State John Kerry chairs the eight-nation Arctic Council of 2015-2017 and hosted the GLACIER meeting. The council comprises Russia, Canada, the United States, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, and Denmark. These countries have worked together from a Norway headquarters since 1996 for Arctic Ocean safety, security, and stewardship. However, this gathering was not an official Arctic Council summit.
According to Victoria Herrmann, US director at The Arctic Institute in Washington, DC, the Alaska meeting offers “yet another international forum for countries to come together and make a statement to their citizens at home, and to the world, that they are committed to moving forward in Paris.” Herrmann also notes:
“A certain amount of disdain between the US and Canada [its predecessor as Arctic Council chair], particularly in Arctic affairs…. What the US has identified as its priorities is in a way a direct response to Canada, which was very domestically and resource-development focused, whereas the U.S. is more internationally and science- and diplomacy-focused.”
In a softer take than his usual urgency about climate issues, perhaps determined by his two audiences, Secretary Kerry stressed compromise throughout the meeting in accounting for how nations can continue to burn oil, natural gas, and other fossil fuels while still staying below a treacherous level of global warming. The Obama administration has taken an apparent middle road here, allowing Shell’s highly controversial offshore exploration program to proceed against the wishes of environmental groups and simultaneously upsetting pro-development interests for taking a firm stand against resource extraction onshore in the previously protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
At the GLACIER summit, the secretary retained the concept of fossil alternatives as bridges to a future that will switch America and the rest of the world onto renewable sources of energy: solar, wind, and water power. He also stressed the important role of technology, including better environmental observation, greater fuel efficiency, energy efficiency, and home insulation. He apparently felt that this approach would be more appropriate to the people comprising his audience. Kerry’s conclusion:
“The more we can push people in the right direction, the better our chances of making it, but you’ve got to balance it, obviously, with the fundamentals of your economy and the basic needs.”
President Obama also visits Alaska this week and contributed a clarion summary speech at GLACIER. The president bluntly said the world is “not acting fast enough” to address climate change.
“Human activity is disrupting the climate, in many ways, faster than we previously thought. The science is stark. It is sharpening. It proves that this once distance threat is now very much in the present.
“Those who want to deny the science are on their own. They are on their own shrinking island.”
In an important divergence from the recent stance of many other nations, the GLACIER summit included participation from Russia, a major arctic stakeholder that has been ostracized and condemned for since its provocative actions in Ukraine. It’s very important that Russia meet at the same table with other powers and confirm multilateralism, especially considering the intransigence of some other arctic nations.
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